I recently spoke to a friend who teaches yoga in India. She said when people call to inquire about her classes, it all follows a surprisingly similar pattern:
“Hi. I read you teach yoga. Can you tell me what exactly you teach?”
“Sure – I teach asanas, followed by a relaxation at the end.”
“Oh – I assumed it would be meditation and pranayama. Do you teach that?”
“Well, not really. I teach mostly the postures and deep relaxation.”
“Sorry, that doesn’t really sound like the right thing for me.”
You have to digest that: People calling up for yoga classes in India simply assume that it’s meditation and pranayama that will be taught. They don’t care that much about the asanas. To them, yoga means something else. Yoga, that’s a way of living. Not a way of stretching yourself, sweating until you’re able to mold your body into pretzel postures, and then for days relishing that feeling of success. I guess many of them would just shake their head (no, not the head wiggle that means YES) when being told what became of yoga in the Western World.
We know at least since Patanjali that the physical postures are just the entrance door to all the magnificent stuff that lies beyond. We’re just not there yet, we cannot quite reach it – so we have to work with what we’ve got. The body. The gross matter.
But one day, oh, one day, when the mind is quiet, then we’ll be able to progress to more advanced practices. We will be able to sit still for meditation, we’ll be able to open our minds so much that we’re able to chant, be devoted to Siva, Durga, Lakshmi…without being self-conscious, without the mind racing, telling us: You sound stupid. You cannot sing, shut up now.
We will be able to sit still for 40 rounds of anuloma viloma, with applying the bandhas, that is (in case you were wondering). We will be able to observe the yamas and niyamas, we will be bringing yoga to our life.
These are all little steps on the way to mastering our thoughts; mastering the mind – this is YOGA.
So it’s understandable that to many people in India, a vigorous physical yoga practice on the mat does not hold the same glory as the other practices outlined above. In fact, we might even go backwards when starting the practice. How?
When we start being what we would call “successful”. One more arm balance. Hold headstand a little longer. Get deeper into the twist. We succeed, and we’re proud. We’ve achieved something. When this thought pattern kicks in – then we start going backwards.
It’s as Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: Don’t be attached to the outcome of your actions. Don’t get attached to success or failure. Do your practice. Follow your dharma. Don’t get upset for days because the woman on the mat next to you managed to get into lotus while in headstand. And you didn’t.
Being able to do that might mean you’re a great gymnast, but does it make you a good yogi?
A thousand thank yous to Andrea Leber for providing this guest post and sharing her experiences as a yogi who’s practiced and studied in India and the UK
– Your Charmed Yogi
Andrea is a fully certified yoga instructor based in London who focuses on dynamic and vinyasa flow yoga. She fell in love with yoga as a child when her mother signed her up for classes (what a blessing!) and kept on practising ever since. Her practice is nurtured by annual trips to India and inspired by her teachers Donna Farhi, Ana Forrest and Kino MacGregor.
Andrea blogs about everything yoga on andrealeber.wordpress.com and can be contacted for classes through her website.